UN Climate Ambition Summit Sets Upcoming COP28 Agenda


UN Climate Ambition Summit Sets Upcoming COP28 Agenda

Photo: Shutterstock/World pieces

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has pulled off an effective stroke of climate change diplomacy, upping the ante on major polluting countries and calling for more contributions and funds to poorer countries impacted unfairly by climate change. He also pressed for a coal-fired power generation phaseout and is already setting the climate agenda two months before the COP28 Summit in Dubai, UAE.

02 October 2023 – by Tim Daiss   Comments (0)

UN Secretary-General António Guterres, at the UN Climate Ambition Summit 2023 on September 20, upped the ante on major climate-polluting countries. The summit was held on the sidelines of the annual UN General Assembly in New York.

Guterres issued a scathing rebuke, telling summit attendees that the world was “decades away” from eliminating fossil fuel usage. He also pressed for a total coal power phaseout.

He added that “humanity had opened the gates to hell”, as he warned that the world was on track for a 2.8°C temperature rise, since pre-industrial times.

Fossil Fuel Crisis

California Governor Gavin Newsom, the only speaker from the US, surmised the situation succinctly, simply calling the climate crisis a “fossil fuel crisis”.

While speaking at the UN Climate Ambition Summit 2023, Guterres also pushed what appeared to be a two-pronged approach. He highlighted the most ambitious nations on climate policy. Then, he threw the gauntlet at major countries that weren’t doing enough to battle climate change.

First Movers and Doers

He did this in large part by only inviting high-level leaders from countries that he saw as the first “movers and doers” on climate issues.

Of more than 100 governments expressing an interest in speaking at the summit, only 34 made the cut. Many invited to speak included smaller countries and island nations. Only five of the G20 major economies were allowed to speak: Brazil, Canada, France, Germany and South Africa. Excluded were the world’s largest economies and some of its largest polluters: China, the US, India, Japan and the UK.

Level of Ambition Questioned

There were no new pledges from major countries to phase out fossil fuels at the summit. However, one of the main speakers, the EU, is still negotiating a fossil fuel phaseout document slated to be finalised in October.

Canada, a major fossil fuel producer, and a few EU countries said they would either allocate more of their budgets to climate finance for developing countries or reallocate special access they had to funds from international lending institutions to poorer countries.

A Common Theme

A common theme among speakers was the frustration that the war in Ukraine had distracted larger and richer countries from living up to their commitments to help smaller countries manage the risks of climate change. Several also stressed that these richer powers contributed the most to climate change, while the the poorer ones are suffering the most adverse impacts.

Loss and Damage Fund

Meanwhile, there won’t be any confirmation that rich countries have met their USD 100 billion a year climate finance promise until 2025 at the earliest. 

That agreement was made in 2020 under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement. It covers a five-year period. There won’t be any confirmation that rich countries have met their USD 100 billion a year climate finance promise until 2025 at the earliest.

However, the UN said on September 8 that its transaction committee on loss and damage resulted in “significant progress towards fulfilling the mandate given to the Committee at COP27 in Egypt to press richer countries for contributions”. A floor has been set for some USD 400 billion per year to be raised and distributed to poorer countries impacted the most by climate change.

Participants in the meeting, however, also stressed that it’s “one thing to have a well-structured fund, but will only be fully operational if it is funded”.

Why Phase Out Coal?

In September, the UN also released its G20 Acceleration Call: From Coal to Renewables report. According to the report, G20 members account for around 85% of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), 75% of international trade and two-thirds of the world’s population. They are also responsible for around three-quarters of global emissions.

Coal phaseout is an environmental policy that intends to stop the use of coal combustion in coal-burning power plants, and it’s an integral step toward fossil fuel removal.

Coal, when used for power generation, is the dirtiest of all fossil fuels. Along with adding to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, burning coal emits toxic and carcinogenic substances into our air, water and land.


The US, a leading G20 member, is estimated to be responsible for at least 25% of global historical emissions, followed by the EU (22%), and other G20 members: China (13%), Russia (6%), Japan (4%), and India (3%).

South Korea is also one of the world’s top carbon dioxide emitters. It’s home to 60 coal power plants, with seven new coal power plants accounting for 7.27 GW under construction.

Japan’s coal-fired power production is also problematic. According to Beyond Coal, 169 coal-fired plants are currently operating, with two under construction or in a planning phase. 

The G20 Acceleration Call also advocates ramping up more renewable energy investment. This marks a clear pathway forward since renewable energy project costs have reached cost parity with their fossil fuel counterparts and now, in many cases, are less expensive.

For its part, the International Energy Agency (IEA) is also pressing the G7 group of nations (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US) to put a coal phaseout in place by 2035.

Asian G20 Members

Moreover, the report adds that several Asia-Pacific countries’ coal phaseout and renewables targets have been deemed insufficient to varying degrees. The list includes countries like China, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea and Australia.

Australia, the world’s largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporter and second-largest coal exporter, also received insufficient marks toward its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Indonesia, the world’s largest coal exporter, also received insufficient marks.

More troubling, the IEA predicts by 2025 that Southeast Asia will become the third-largest coal-consuming region in the world. Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines are among the countries leading the region’s coal consumption growth. 

Effective Climate Change Diplomacy

While the UN climate summit didn’t yield any policy breakthroughs, some are claiming it was intended to gather support and action for the next round of global climate talks at COP28 to be held in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), in November. As such, it marks effective climate change diplomacy in both form and substance.

by Tim Daiss

Tim has been working in energy markets in the Asia-Pacific region for more than ten years. He was trained as an LNG and oil markets analyst and writer then switched to working in sustainable energy, including solar and wind power project financing and due diligence. He’s performed regulatory, geopolitical and market due diligence for energy projects in Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia. He’s also worked as a consultant/advisor for US, UK and Singapore-based energy consultancies including Wood Mackenzie, Enerdata, S&P Global, KBR, Critical Resource, and others. He is the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) for US-based lithium-sulfur EV battery start-up Bemp Research Corp.

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